Crazy for Corvettes? You'll want to see this

As a little girl, Valeria Hutchinson asked Santa to bring her cars and trucks for Christmas.

Her love for cars never faded. When she graduated from nursing school in 1980, she decided to buy a sports car. She had settled on a vintage Chevrolet Corvette when she answered an advertisement for a $6,500 1960 Corvette.

"Against my father's advice, I bought the car," said Hutchinson of Charlotte. "We've been together ever since."

Hutchinson and other Corvette enthusiasts will be in Concord next week at the National Corvette Restorers Society's national convention at Charlotte Motor Speedway's zMAX Dragway.

The convention, held July 13-17, will feature Corvette displays, seminars on Corvette restoration, activities for kids and more.

NCRS, a nonprofit hobby group dedicated to the restoration, preservation and enjoyment of 1953-1996 Corvettes, boasts a membership of nearly 16,000 families nationwide.

Kiwi Riordan, an engine technician Hendrick Motorsports, has been working to restore a silver 1967 Corvette 427 convertible for the convention.

Mechanics at Motorama Classic Cars in Monroe worked on the car's suspension and body work, and Riordan built the engine for the car, which is owned by Hendrick Motorsports' chairman and chief executive officer, Rick Hendrick.

They're shooting for NCRS' Duntov Mark of Excellence Award, a coveted award named for Zora Arkus-Duntov, whose work on Corvettes as a Chevrolet engineer in the 1950s earned him the nickname "father of the Corvette."

To receive the award, a car must receive a judging score of at least 97 percent based on a "as manufactured" standard. It must also pass a performance test -without a single malfunction - of all the car's mechanical components. Then the car must again score at least 97 percent at a NCRS national convention.

As of June, only 1,394 Corvettes have received the Duntov award.

Hendrick's Corvette must pass the performance verification test to be eligible for the award. From the placement of bolts and hose clamps to the colors on the brake caliper, everything has to be perfect, said Riordan.

"It's a little nerve-wracking," he said. "One failure and you're out."

Hutchinson's Corvette will be displayed among other 1960 Corvettes. She's named her beloved car Bella, which means "beautiful" in Italian, she said.

But Bella wasn't too beautiful in the 1980s after Hutchinson bought the car. She laughed as she described how the car was covered in brown primer and how she once had to pull under a bridge during a rainstorm because the car had filled with water.

She couldn't afford to restore Bella then, and eventually she bought a new car, but she kept Bella tucked away in a garage.

But as the car's 50th birthday approached - it rolled off the assembly line in St. Louis in May 1960 - Hutchinson decided it was time. In the past three years, Hutchinson has had the car fully restored. A glossy red with white painted along its curves, Bella is finally beautiful.

Hutchinson joined NCRS last year, and this will be her first time attending the organization's national convention.

She and Bella will be waiting at the speedway for a caravan of Corvettes to reach the speedway next week. Then they'll have a parade of Corvettes from the speedway to a nearby hotel.

"I get goose bumps every time I think about it," she said. "It's just the classic sports car. I plan on keeping my car forever, as long as I live."